Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dave wants you to be happy!

We've been here before, Jeremy Bentham came up with his "felicific calculus" over 300 years ago. Only problem is, how can you make the majority of people feel "happy"?

What it "happiness" - social interaction? educational success? Thriving arts scene? Universal health? All things, in short, that now seem to be under threat from the government's austerity measures.

You can, of course, make people feel "happier" by making them focus on their basic needs: warmth, shelter, reading Mr Murdoch's newspapers, signing Bobby McFerrin's greatest (and thankfully only) hit. In short, you create a nation of happy morons, whose pleasure is assured by anything the ruling class seem fit to throw their way - as long as its dressed up on language that will make them feel good for the short-term.

Put it another way: how can you feel "happy" when you learn more about Andrew Lansley's plans for backdoor NHS privatisation or IDS's ideas for a benefits system that stigmatises the poorest and most disadvantaged in our society.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Degrees are good for society, it's not just self-interest

Heard Janet Daley on Radio 4 this morning, waxing lyrical (and rather misty-eyed, no doubt) about the wonders of the US higher education system, and how she worked 6 nights a week in a cinema to fund her studies. Then she came to the good old Tory question: "Why should those who don't go on to uni pay for those that do?"

Well, this takes us back to Thatcher and "no such thing as society", doesn't it. If you've been to the doctors lately or had a tooth filled, you'd be rather glad that the person you saw went to uni: in effect, you benefited from the knowledge and skills they got from higher education. Similarly, if you've dealt with someone who has a degree - and used the knowledge and abilities they gained from it, whether they were in a "graduate" job or not - then you've also benefited, albeit indirectly, from higher education.

As for Ms Daley's US experience, that struck me as the transatlantic equivalent of Monty Python's 4 Yorkshiremen. We don't have to follow the US in everything, and higher education is one area where we have more than enough experience on this side of the water to formulate our own policies.